When we're lost in the happy task of making Mario run across the screen, it's easy to forget that under those cheery graphics and that jovial music, there are a lot of mathematical equations churning in order to keep the digital world from flying apart in polygonal chunks.
That's why it's important to occasionally watch videos that pick apart a game's coding like wet toilet paper. We get a real sense for how much work goes into making the games we love, however simple they appear on the surface -- and we also gain appreciation for the people who think deeply about our favorite characters' quests.
And when I say "deeply," I'm talking Mariana Trench territory.
If you've been hearing a lot about Mario and parallel universes lately, it's because a YouTuber / professional game breaker called "pannenkoek2012" performed some dizzying digital acrobatics to nab a star in Super Mario 64. The star in question belongs to the "Watch Out for Rolling Rocks" portion of the Hazy Maze Cave.
Not the hardest star to nab, really -- unless you're determined to do it without executing full jumps.
pannenkoek2012's video of the stunt goes over the steps needed to grab the star while adhering to his own draconian rule. All that's necessary is some crazy enemy manipulation, thirteen hours, and generating some invisible parallel universes for Mario to slide in and out of on his journey. No big.
No surprise that pannenkoek2012 pulled this off. He made gaming news in 2014 when he finally discovered a way to grab Super Mario 64's "Impossible Coin" after 18 years.
I'll be honest: I don't understand a lot of the technicalities behind pannenkoek2012's no-jump star search. However, you don't have to be a numbers-minded person to appreciate what he's done here.
This video -- and hundreds like it where people offer themselves up for seemingly impossible game challenges -- is a real mining ground for scientists of all pursuits. The allure for physicists and mathematicians is obvious, but there's a potent sociology lesson here as well.
What drives us to look at a game like Super Mario 64 and say to ourselves, "I wonder how I can clear this without jumping?" Is it because Super Mario in general is all about jumping? Do we feel compelled to "buck the system," as it were, and push ourselves past borders that are already located miles away from common sense?
Maybe it's an inborn instinct for game players. After all, the original Super Mario Bros blew people's minds when they accidentally discovered the upside-down and inside-out Minus World. The architecture of the Famicom versus the NES made it possible for the former to churn out some pretty amazing glitch-worlds, as writer and teacher Nathan Altice points out in his NES bug-book, I Am Error:
"This [Famicom] behavior formed the basis of a bizarre trick that had Famicom players swapping between their Super Mario Bros. and Tennis cartridges mid-game in order to drop Mario into dozens of weird and often unplayable worlds of floating grey Bowsers and impassable walls never intended by the game's designers. What began as a minor Minus World mystery spawned a machine-generated mythology[…]"
We humans aren't so hot at living in harmony with our natural environment, but we're super-pros at tearing apart the things that other humans make, analyzing them, then making them dance to our own (chip)tunes.